Low-fat unsweetened dairy products are good sources of calcium: a cup of skimmed milk, for example, provides 300mg of calcium. However, if you are lactose-intolerant, which causes problems with absorption, dairy is not the best source of calcium for you — unsweetened yoghurt is an exception. Other foods providing calcium and important co-factors that assist its absorption include sea vegetables, leafy greens (although not spinach — it contains oxalic acid, which may interfere with calcium absorption), soybeans, nuts, and molasses. Vitamin K, also necessary for bone formation, is found in collard greens, kale, and romaine lettuce.
If you can't guarantee the quality of your diet 24/7, take a daily supplement containing 1000-1500mg calcium and at least 300mg magnesium. The forms that are thought to be best absorbed by the body are calcium citrate, chelate or hydroxyappatite. A naturopath may also prescribe a vitamin D supplement, of 400-1,000IU a day, depending on whether you want to prevent bone loss or already have osteoporosis; have a blood test done to check your vitamin D levels. Ensure you are getting plenty of vitamin C as well — along with its other health-promoting functions, it synthesises collagen, which is a vital component of bone.
To help prevent accelerating bone loss, ensure you get enough protein. It doesn't take much chicken, fish or meat to supply your daily requirement — as long as you have a serving that's about the size of your palm, you're getting enough.
Phytoestrogens are plant-derived substances that act in a similar way to oestrogen in the body. Research suggests that eating soy foods — soy milk, tofu and soy flour, rather than the concentrated supplements — along with other phytoestrogens like beans, chickpeas, lentils and flaxseeds, may reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
Several studies show a clear link between a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables and better bone health. This probably reflects the fact that eating fruit and veg increases alkalinity in the body, which in turn prevents calcium loss from bone. The nutrients potassium and lutein, which are plentiful in fruit and veg, are also associated with significantly higher bone mineral densities.
Cut processed sugars out of your diet, as they contribute to bone loss; so do caffeine, carbonated soft drinks, salt and alcohol. Blood thinners, anticonvulsants, and antacids have all been implicated in bone loss — check with your doctor about potential side effects of any medication you are taking.
Not for nothing are omega-3 fatty acids nicknamed 'WD-40 for the joints' — because they inhibit the effects of inflammatory prostaglandins, they're a great choice for people with rheumatoid arthritis. What's good for the joints also seems to be good for the bones, especially in postmenopausal women who either have osteoporosis or are at risk of it, with one study showing that those given omega-3s for 18 months had denser bones and fewer fractures than those who didn't take omega-3s.
Some research suggests that red clover can help to slow the onset of osteoporosis in at-risk women, thanks to compounds it contains called isoflavones. Horsetail is a herb that has been traditionally used for osteoporosis treatment and prevention, possibly due to its high content of the minerals silica, potassium and manganese, which all help to increase bone density.
Being physically active is one of the most important preventive measures you can take. Weight-bearing exercises, which work your bones as well as your muscles, are especially important. Studies also suggest that movement techniques, like tai chi, can restore balance and therefore reduce the risk of a fall. In one study, women who practised tai chi for 30 minutes twice a week were significantly less likely to have falls.
Stress can, in theory, accelerate the development of osteoporosis because it ramps up production of cortisol, which compromises bone health. Practise some form of relaxation exercise regularly to counter the negative effects of stress